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[c#] Using W3C Trace Context standard in distributed tracing

Luiz Lelis
Software Engineer at Juntos Somos Mais / Engineer - UFMG
Updated on ・9 min read

[c#] Using W3C Trace Context standard in distributed tracing

In my last article, I wrote about the W3C trace context standard and what kind of problem it came to solve. The current article purpose is to show the trace context usage in a microservice architecture. For the first practical example, I chose to develop all applications using c# with .NET 5 (sample WeatherForecast web API) and run all of them locally via docker-compose. Hope you enjoy it!

Application architecture

The main objective is to propagate a message with traceparent id throw two APIs and one worker using W3C trace context standard. The first-api calls the second-api by a http call while the second-api has an asynchronous communication with the worker by a message broker (rabbitmq was chosen for that). Furthermore, zipkin was the trace system chosen (or vendor as the standard call it), being responsible for getting the application traces and building the distributed tracing diagram:

Figure 1 - Distributed trace

Distributed Trace

The first and second APIs have the same code base, but they're being deployed in different containers.

OpenTelemetry

An important framework used in the present article to deal with context propagation is OpenTelemetry. As the documentation saids:

OpenTelemetry is a set of APIs, SDKs, tooling and integrations that are designed for the creation and management of telemetry data such as traces, metrics, and logs.

OTel provides a vendor-agnostic instrumentation library to generate, emit, collect, process and export telemetry data. That's not the only purpose of OTel, which is composed by multiple components: proto, specification, collector, instrumentation libraries. Due to the dense content of OpenTelemetry, I'll try to approach OTel in the current article in a shallow way, because that's a subject for another article.

W3C TraceContext is one of the propagators maintained and distributed as extension packages by OTel. That's the reason why OTel is always related to W3C TraceContext and vice versa.

Talk is cheap, show me the code

The source code could be found in this github repo.

The default diagnostics library in .NET 5, called System.Diagnostics, is already prepared to propagate the context based on W3C TraceContext specification. In previous .NET Core versions, the context was propagated with a hierarchical identifier format by default. On .NET Core 3.0, the identifier format setup started to be available, see this stackoverflow question for more information about how to configure w3c's format in previous .NET Core versions.

The first-api and the second-api showed in Figure 1 requires three packages to work properly with OpenTelemetry:

    <PackageReference Include="OpenTelemetry.Extensions.Hosting" Version="1.0.0-rc7" />
    <PackageReference Include="OpenTelemetry.Instrumentation.AspNetCore" Version="1.0.0-rc7" />
    <PackageReference Include="OpenTelemetry.Exporter.Zipkin" Version="1.1.0" />
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the OpenTelemetry.Extensions.Hosting package is responsible for register OpenTelemetry into the application using Dependency Injection, the OpenTelemetry.Instrumentation.AspNetCore and OpenTelemetry.Exporter.Zipkin packages represent two source components of OpenTelemetry framework: the instrumentation library and the collector, respectively. The instrumentation library is responsible for inject the observable information from libraries and applications into the OpenTelemetry API. On the other hand, the collector offers a vendor-agnostic implementation on how to receive, process, and export telemetry data. The exporter is the place where to send the received data (zipkin was the chosen for our example). The OTel's dependency injection was done in Startup.cs:

    services.AddOpenTelemetryTracing(builder => builder
        .AddAspNetCoreInstrumentation()
        .SetResourceBuilder(ResourceBuilder.CreateDefault().AddService(Configuration["Zipkin:ServiceName"]))
        .AddZipkinExporter()
    );

    services.Configure<ZipkinExporterOptions>(Configuration.GetSection("Zipkin"));
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the zipkin endpoint that receives telemetry data is /api/v2/spans. As mentioned before, the first-api and the second-api have the same code base. For this example, the first is called by a client (curl) in WeatherForecast route, which calls the second one in the PublishInQueue route. Both controller methods have a stdout print for traceparent and tracestate:

    [ApiController]
    [Route("[controller]")]
    public class WeatherForecastController : ControllerBase
    {
        private readonly ILogger<WeatherForecastController> _logger;
        private readonly IHttpClientFactory _httpClientFactory;
        private readonly IConfiguration _configuration;
        private readonly ConnectionFactory _connectionFactory;
        private readonly TextMapPropagator _propagator = Propagators.DefaultTextMapPropagator;

        public WeatherForecastController(
            ILogger<WeatherForecastController> logger,
            IHttpClientFactory httpClientFactory,
            IConfiguration configuration,
            ConnectionFactory connectionFactory)
        {
            _logger = logger;
            _httpClientFactory = httpClientFactory;
            _configuration = configuration;
            _connectionFactory = connectionFactory;
        }

        [HttpPost]
        public async Task<IActionResult> SendToTheOtherApi([FromBody] WeatherForecast weatherForecast)
        {
            _logger.LogInformation("Traceparent: {0}", Activity.Current.Id);
            _logger.LogInformation("Tracestate: {0}", Activity.Current.TraceStateString);
            var client = _httpClientFactory.CreateClient();
            var content = new StringContent(JsonConvert.SerializeObject(weatherForecast), Encoding.UTF8, "application/json");
            await client.PostAsync(_configuration["ClientUrl"], content);

            return Ok();
        }

        [HttpPost]
        [Route("PublishInQueue")]
        public IActionResult PublishInQueue([FromBody] WeatherForecast weatherForecast)
        {
            var message = JsonConvert.SerializeObject(weatherForecast);
            var body = Encoding.UTF8.GetBytes(message);
            var traceparent = Activity.Current.Id;
            var tracestate = Activity.Current.TraceStateString;
            _logger.LogInformation("Traceparent: {0}", traceparent);
            _logger.LogInformation("Tracestate: {0}", tracestate);

            using (var connection = _connectionFactory.CreateConnection())
            {
                using (var channel = connection.CreateModel())
                {
                    channel.QueueDeclare(
                        queue: _configuration["RabbitMq:QueueName"],
                        durable: false,
                        exclusive: false,
                        autoDelete: false,
                        arguments: null);

                    var basicProps = channel.CreateBasicProperties();

                    // Inject the ActivityContext into the message headers to propagate trace context to the receiving service.
                    var contextToInject = Activity.Current.Context;
                    _propagator.Inject(
                        new PropagationContext(contextToInject, Baggage.Current),
                        basicProps,
                        RabbitMqHelper.InjectTraceContextIntoBasicProperties);

                    RabbitMqHelper.AddMessagingTags(Activity.Current, _configuration);

                    channel.BasicPublish(
                        exchange: "",
                        routingKey: _configuration["RabbitMq:QueueName"],
                        basicProperties: basicProps,
                        body: body);
                }
            }

            return Ok();
        }
    }
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Note that I chose to use a propagator to inject the context into a carrier. The propagators are defined in the Opentelemetry Specification as "objects used to read and write context data to and from messages exchanged by the applications". The spec also recommends that propagators must define Inject and Extract operations, as the main purpose of PublishInQueue is to publish a message, the Inject context operation suits better there, and the Extract operation in the worker.

Besides that, the propagation fields (traceparent and tracestate) were added in the message header. In the last article, I said that the standard (in the Working Draft (WD) step of the w3c process) recommends to add the propagation fields in the application-properties section by the message publisher. For the current example, I chose to propagate that context in the message header even for AMQP calls as was done in the dotnet OpenTelemetry example. It's important to reinforce that Trace Context: AMQP protocol is not a W3C Recommendation yet. Take a look at the place where the propagation fields were added:

    public static void InjectTraceContextIntoBasicProperties(
        IBasicProperties props, string key, string value)
    {
        if (props.Headers == null)
        {
            props.Headers = new Dictionary<string, object>();
        }

        props.Headers[key] = value;
    }
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By default, the ASP.NET core starts an Activity span when the request is beginning and stop it at the end. For that reason this kind of setup is not required for the first-api and the second-api. On the other hand, the manually creation of an activity span is required for the worker because in that case, it's not dealing with http calls, neither an API, but a message listener.

NOTE: ASP.NET core also sets the traceparent from the upstream request as the current activity ParentId.

For the worker those packages are required:

    <PackageReference Include="OpenTelemetry.Extensions.Hosting" Version="1.0.0-rc7" />
    <PackageReference Include="OpenTelemetry.Exporter.Zipkin" Version="1.1.0" />
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and the OTel's dependency injection was configured to the worker in Program.cs like the following bellow:

services.AddOpenTelemetryTracing(config => config
    .SetResourceBuilder(ResourceBuilder
        .CreateDefault()
        .AddService(configuration["Zipkin:ServiceName"]))
    .AddSource(configuration["Zipkin:ServiceName"])
    .AddZipkinExporter()
);

services.Configure<ZipkinExporterOptions>(configuration.GetSection("Zipkin"));
services.AddSingleton(new ActivitySource(configuration["Zipkin:ServiceName"]));
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It's important to mention that ActivitySource denotes a Tracer, which is used to start spans. As mentioned before, for the worker was required to configure manually a new span scope for each message read:

    public void MessageHandler(BasicDeliverEventArgs eventArgs)
    {
        // Extract the PropagationContext from the upstream service using message headers.
        var parentContext = _propagator.Extract(
            default,
            eventArgs.BasicProperties,
            RabbitMqHelper.ExtractTraceContextFromBasicProperties);
        Baggage.Current = parentContext.Baggage;

        using (var activity = _activitySource.StartActivity(
            _configuration["Zipkin:AppName"],
            ActivityKind.Consumer,
            parentContext.ActivityContext))
        {
            var body = eventArgs.Body.ToArray();
            var message = Encoding.UTF8.GetString(body);
            _logger.LogInformation("Received {0}", message);
            _logger.LogInformation("Traceparent: {0}", Activity.Current.Id);
            _logger.LogInformation("Tracestate: {0}", Activity.Current.TraceStateString);

            activity.SetTag("message", message);
            RabbitMqHelper.AddMessagingTags(activity, _configuration);
        }
    }
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MessageHandler method is triggered when a new message arrives in the queue, so that's the queue listener. Note that a new span scope is created with StartActivity method and the most important thing is: how to configure the new span scope specifying which is the upstream span. The _propagator variable is of the type TraceContextPropagator, an opentelemetry-dotnet class that is a text map propagator for W3C trace context. The most important parameter of _propagator.Extract method is the last one (called getter), that's the function which OTel will try to use to extract the propagation fields (traceparent and tracestate). Take a look at the way that ExtractTraceContextFromBasicProperties function was configured to the current example:

    public static IEnumerable<string> ExtractTraceContextFromBasicProperties(IBasicProperties props, string key)
    {
        if (props.Headers.TryGetValue(key, out var value))
        {
            var bytes = value as byte[];
            return new[] { Encoding.UTF8.GetString(bytes) };
        }

        return Enumerable.Empty<string>();
    }
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as you can see above, the worker is expecting the traceparent and tracestate in the message header.

Running the project

Inside src folder, type the command below to up all containers (first-api, second-api, worker, rabbit and zipkin):

  docker-compose up
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wait for all containers get on and then send a request to the first-api:

curl --request POST \
  --url http://localhost:5000/WeatherForecast \
  --header 'Content-Type: application/json' \
  --header 'accept: */*' \
  --data '{
    "temperatureC": 10,
    "summary": "Trace Test"
}'
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the message that you sent above will travel throughout the flow (first-api > second-api > rabbit > worker) along with the propagation fields (traceparent and tracestate). Take a look at the application stdout:

first-api     | info: OpenTelemetryApi.Controllers.WeatherForecastController[0]
first-api     |       Traceparent: 00-0a0578c18192c14bae738b777e072a42-2db0e8c6b4654744-01
first-api     | info: OpenTelemetryApi.Controllers.WeatherForecastController[0]
first-api     |       Tracestate: (null)
second-api    | info: OpenTelemetryApi.Controllers.WeatherForecastController[0]
second-api    |       Traceparent: 00-0a0578c18192c14bae738b777e072a42-bfc08418aeb71a4e-01
second-api    | info: OpenTelemetryApi.Controllers.WeatherForecastController[0]
second-api    |       Tracestate: (null)
worker        | info: Worker.WorkerService[0]
worker        |       Traceparent: 00-0a0578c18192c14bae738b777e072a42-004468438f2d724c-01
worker        | info: Worker.WorkerService[0]
worker        |       Tracestate: (null)
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note that the trace-id (0a0578c18192c14bae738b777e072a42) remains the same throughout all the trace, and the span-id (or parent-id) has been updated between the applications (2db0e8c6b4654744, bfc08418aeb71a4e and 004468438f2d724c). To see the generated distributed tracing diagram, access zipkin in your browser:

  http://localhost:9411/
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at home page, let the search field empty and type RUN QUERY to load all traces. Finally, click in your trace, then you'll see a diagram like this:

Zipkin Diagram

Conclusion

The W3C Trace Context standard came to define a standard to the distributed tracing propagation. Currently, there is only one W3C Recommendation which is for HTTP calls (launched in february 2020), all the other standards are in the working in process step (AMQP, MQTT and baggage). It doesn't mean that you should avoid to use the standard in a production environment, but keep in mind that some things are going to change and is important to be up to date with newer releases.

If you got until here and liked the article content, let me know reacting to the current post. You can also open a discussion below, I'll try to answer soon. On the other hand, if you think that I said something wrong, please open an issue in the article's github repo. In the next article, I'll show a full distributed trace example in a microsservice architecture, just like this, but using python with django. Hope you like it!

References

DRUTU, Bogdan; KANZHELEV, Sergey; MCLEAN, Morgan; MOLNAR, Nik; REITBAUER, Alois; SHKURO, Yuri. W3C Recommendation - Trace Context

KANZHELEV, Sergey; VASTERS, Clemens. W3C Editor's draft - Trace Context: AMQP protocol

OPENTELEMETRY, Community. OpenTelemetry .NET

OPENTELEMETRY, Community. OpenTelemetry Documentation

OPENTELEMETRY, Community. OpenTelemetry Specification

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